Monday, July 21, 2008


Cindy Woodsmall is the author of the best-selling novels WHEN THE HEART CRIES and WHEN THE MORNING COMES, the first two books in the Sisters of the Quilt series. Her real-life connections with the Plain Mennonite and Old Order Amish families enrich her novels with authenticity. Cindy lives in Georgia with her husband, three sons, and one daughter-in-law.

What a busy and fun day that was! On Tuesday of each week I have an assistant, Barbara, who comes in and we juggle as much of the non-writing-related aspects of being an author as we can. The call came in during one of those days. Like other authors, I screen calls during work hours, so when I didn’t recognize the number I didn’t answer. I had a couple of radio interviews that day, so Barbara started fielding phone calls from the downstairs office. (Two of my children grew up and moved out, so I now have two offices! ;-)
When she shared the news that I was a RITA finalist, I stared at her for a long moment, then mumbled, "Is this a joke?"
She shook her head, smiling broadly.
I gaped at her. "Are you sure? The RITA?"
She laughed. "I’m sure."
Once I got over feeling stunned, excitement grew like a crescendo in a wonderful piece of music. Eventually, the song dissolved into two women in a home office, squealing in delight.
WHEN THE MORNING COMES is book two in a three-book series, each chronicling a different aspect of Hannah’s journey. At the beginning of book two we see her as a seventeen-year-old Amish girl who has been betrayed by her family, her fiancĂ©, and even her faith.
Broken, she steps off a train to search for a shunned aunt she hopes still exists. With only an eighth-grade education, she has little knowledge of how to survive in the outside world.
I think what sets this book apart is the parallel journeys of reaping devastation and the hope of building life anew.
A man, who has lost just as much as Hannah has but is nothing like her, becomes an unlikely champion who grows to love her like no other.
So far I have three novels completed, with the third coming out in September.
Book one in the series is WHEN THE HEART CRIES.
Book two and the RITA finalist is WHEN THE MORNING COMES.
Book three is WHEN THE SOUL MENDS, and it will be out September 16, 2008.
Since all three of my books are part of the same journey, each one is a favorite for a different reason. Hannah’s Old Order Amish innocence, strength, and epiphanies work both for and against her in each book. I think those things will linger in my heart as I continue to write more books.
Book one, WHEN THE HEART CRIES, made the CBA best-seller list and was an ECPA Christian Book Award finalist, along with books by Karen Kingsbury, Angela Hunt, and Charles Martin. I didn't think it was possible to be more pleased with a work, but book two, WHEN THE MORNING COMES, made the New York Times best-sellers extended list (#34) and is a RITA finalist, so I’m just off-the-wall excited. Of course, those who know me best would tell you I didn’t need a set of books to be off the wall. ;-)
I’m a super plotter who starts by taking the time to discover who the characters are. That begins with who their parents were and the mood of the home throughout their childhood, and it includes any traumatic or ecstatic experiences they had while growing up.
I spend time inside an Old Order Amish home, living as my characters do, while interviewing those within the community and seeing firsthand the various trades in which they make their living. This ensures that my characters and plots have a solid foundation.
The next step is to spend a week plotting out each character’s goals, motivations, conflicts, as well as the events that distance each one from his or her goals. I don’t plan out the epiphanies but allow those to grow organically as I write. So far they’ve surprised me every time.
After all that prewriting, I let creativity take over, ignoring or changing the outline as needed. I extensively edit, edit, edit as I go. After that I send each chapter to my critique partner. Since she’s also part of the planning and plotting process, she knows the story inside and out. She critiques with great scrutiny, and I pay close attention to anything she has to say.
I decided to write when I had no other choice. The stories inside my head wouldn’t go away and refused to become quiet, so (long story short) I began writing.
The stories grow naturally from characters who may tremble in pain, fear, or confusion, but whose faith is never negotiable to them. Although the journeys are not about being or becoming a Christian, the characters have a God-centered world view, and the stories are about them dealing with the traumatic and ecstatic parts of life the best way they know how, and both the beauty and the distress of doing so.
I’m about halfway finished with THE HOPE OF REFUGE, an Amish novel where the lead heroine, Cara, is a single mom living in Bronx, New York. Cara had been raised in foster care, and while trying to keep her own six-year-old daughter from the same fate, she begins following pieces of a memory that lead her to an Old Order Amish community. What she discovers inside this community seems more destructive than all her years of having no one.
Pray. Not so much about God opening doors for you as much as seeking from Him your direction, your inner compass. Be willing to lay writing down. Be willing to revamp your entire lifestyle in order to write. Be ready to follow every rule concerning writing. Be ready to break every rule.

Be ready.

That’s what listening during the quiet hours can do for us—cause us to be ready to both hear and follow to the best of our ability.

But please, please remember that success is not about how many books we’ve written or sold—if any. Success is being His and walking in whatever that means from His perspective, not some preconceived idea of ours or those around us.

Thank you so much for such a wonderful interview! I’m deeply honored to be a RITA finalist with such a wonderful lineup of authors.

I welcome the readers of this blog to visit me at my Web site, where I have a couple of contests running. One offers a chance to win an autographed copy of all three books, and one is a year-long contest with a chance to win an Amish-made quilt.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Susan Mae Warren Rita Interview!

1. Describe your RITA phone call.

The truth is, well, I had FORGOTTEN about the RITA. I’ve never finalled. Never even remotely thought I would final. So, there I am, reading my email, sipping coffee, sitting in my pajamas, and in comes a call. I see it’s RWA and think, uh oh, I forgot to pay my membership or something. Because WHY would they be calling me?

You could have pushed me over with a puff as the voice on the phone told me that Taming Rafe finalled in the RITA. In fact, I think I uttered an incredulous, “HUH? What?” Thankfully she repeated her news, slowly and clearly.

And then dancing started.

2. Tell us about the RITA book and why you think it stood out it the crowd.

Taming Rafe is about a bull-rider who finds himself at the bottom of his game, even his life. He’s lost everything and has made some pretty bad decisions. Into this mess walks Kat Breckenridge, a philanthropist who is trying to fill her deceased mother’s big, fashionable shoes. She’s got some mystery to her past that draws her to cowboys, but most of all, Rafe had decimated her latest charity event, and owes her big. As they sort out blame, and eventually come together with a game plan, they discover each one offers the other healing in ways they could never imagine. It’s a mulit-layered story, with a subplot romance, and a story within a story that illuminates the emotional plot of all the characters (and has it’s own plot). It was my most ambitious story to date, a challenge to write, and I loved it. I’m so thrilled that the RITA judges liked it!

3. How many books have you written?

Twenty-two, including novellas.

4. Do you have a favorite?

Oh boy – I love my first story, Happily Ever After – I wrote it from such a pure place, it’s still the story of my heart. And then there’s Everything’s Coming up Josey, my chick lit story – finally got to tell the truth about being a missionary. And then Rafe…well, who doesn’t like a cute Bull Rider?

5. Describe your writing process.

I’m a detailed plotter, plotting out the story, the subplots and even the epiphany. My character is pretty fleshed out when I start the first page. However, after that it gets really messy. I slap down the first draft without grammar or spell checking, just a download from my brain every day for a month or six weeks. At the end of the day, I simply save and crawl out of my mess of research books lying open around my writing chair. The next day, I crawl back in. I don’t cook. I don’t clean. I do shower. But my entire brain is on Book. My family calls it (kindly) being under my “Thought Blanket.” THEN, after the book is roughed out, I go back, chapter by chapter, adding in all the elements I’ve forgotten, as well as texture, and richer description. And then I go through again, smoothing it out and polishing it. THEN I print it, and read it, adding in final proofing or edits. By the time I turn it in, I’ve read it four times, at least.

6. When did you decide to become a writer and why Christian fiction?

I LOVE to write. I would rather write than eat (my children occasionally bring me food). And, I was a missionary for years, and I truly believe that the best stories engage the spiritual element in us. I love to stir up issues of the soul, and let the reader ponder them with the character, hopefully long after they put the book down. My hope is that my readers, regardless of their spiritual background, would see God at work in their lives, loving them, giving them grace, just as He works in the character’s life on the page.

7. Tell us about your next or upcoming projects.

I just finished a book called, “Here Comes Trouble.” It’s a novel about a girl who returns home after ten years to discover the mess she left behind. But she’s a different person now. Can a girl change her stripes in her own hometown? Or will she always be labeled Trouble? Funny, and romantic, with elements of mystery and suspense, it’s the first in the PJ Sugar series.

Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?

Yes – Read books in your genre, take notes, analyze, write, then continue the cycle….forever. *g*

Susan May Warren
award-winning author of...soul-stirring fiction